Rosaline (2022) – Movie Review

Rosaline, 2022.

Directed by Karen Maine.
Starring Kaitlyn Dever, Isabela Merced, Kyle Allen, Sean Teale, Minnie Driver, Bradley Whitford, Henry Hunter Hall, Spencer Stevenson, Nico Hiraga, Christopher McDonald, and Mercedes Colon.


A comedic retelling of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” told from the point of view of Romeo’s jilted ex, Rosaline, the woman Romeo first claims to love before he falls for Juliet.

As far as hooks go, the idea of bringing an ex-girlfriend into Romeo and Juliet’s star-crossed love is strong. Locking in Karen Maine as the director (responsible for the hilarious sexual awakening comedy Yes God Yes) and rising star names in Kaitlyn Dever and Isabela Merced) only adds to the intrigue behind Rosaline, an adaptation of Rebecca Serle’s novel (obviously based on characters created by William Shakespeare).

However, by the end and even accounting for a genuinely inventive third act that puts a wonderfully playful twist on the tragic conclusion of that classic story, Rosaline mostly goes sideways, either trying too hard to feel contemporary despite taking place “a very long time ago,” shamelessly dropping cringe needle drops (there’s a part where the eponymous Rosaline, feeling ignored and abandoned by Romeo, cries into her pillow while the soundtrack blares All By Myself), somehow makes Rosaline look naïve, dumb, and unlikable despite demonstrating a wealth of intelligence on subjects like cartography, and leans a bit too hard into the prospect of another man helping her become a better person, somewhat taking away from whatever feminist or individuality message is on its mind. 

The frustrating characterization behind Rosaline could likely be attributed to the screenplay by The Disaster Artist team of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who, as much as I love that movie, also aren’t names that come to mind when pondering who should be adapting this novel.

Rosaline is wisely presented as knowledgeable and ambitious, with her heart set on a life of adventure and travel rather than the traditional role of marrying for family advantages and bringing countless children into the world. Her wisecracking nurse (Minnie Driver) also sneaks her books and offers advice from time to time, making for an engaging dynamic that could have been explored further. She’s not necessarily against marriage, but more specifically, the arranged kind. Nevertheless, her father, Adrian Capulet (Bradley Whitford), continues to bring in old and gross suitors that Rosaline amusingly pushes away by pretending to be psychologically insane with imaginary friends.

Similar ground is also covered recently in Lena Dunham’s Catherine Called Birdy, which I recommend checking out; it handles the humor and characters far better. It’s tough to say the same about Rosaline. Take the infamous balcony sequence; Rosaline doesn’t particularly find Romeo’s poetry moving or romantic (partially because Kyle Allen, funnily enough, plays him as a standard long-haired dudebro doofus). Then when he suggests her being a stay-at-home wife and children caretaker, she understandably freezes up before saying “I love you” back.

This awkward conversation with neither of them on the same page leads to Romeo cutting off contact with Rosaline, who turns into an obsessed, jilted lover determined to win him back even though his vision for their futures doesn’t align with anything about how she wants to live her life. 

There is something difficult to buy into about this depiction of Rosaline, given what the film has already established regarding her views on marriage and romance. To be fair, the greater message of the narrative is about finding the deeper meaning of love. Most of this comes from the arrival of one last potential suitor, a handsomely young former soldier named Dario (Sean Teale), who Rosaline instantly rejects and lumps with the other men and their warped perception of romance and fascination with amassing more land and titles. In reality, Dario is not concerned with any of those things, yet Rosaline remains stubborn and breaks the news that she has a boyfriend, even though she doesn’t anymore.

Not only is Rosaline alone and single, but Romeo is now flirting with her cousin, now returned home after finishing her studies, who happens to be Juliet (Isabela Merced). The polar opposite of Rosaline, Juliet enjoys all the cheesy poetry and becomes the recipient of many love letters. Cue the run-of-the-mill scheming to break the relationship off, which doesn’t do much to integrate the Romeo and Juliet story or the Capulet/Montague rivalry.

However, Rosaline does have a gay friend (Paris, played by Spencer Stevenson, which is a unique idea in itself that feels undercooked) that she convinces Lord Capulet to arrange to marry off to Juliet, ensuring him it will never actually happen (part of her planning that makes it harder to get behind her).

Part of the reason Rosaline‘s third act works is that, by that point, she realizes Romeo and Juliet are a sensible match, that she has been behaving cruelly and selfishly, and that Dario genuinely likes her for her boldness and refusal to settle for something ordinary. There is also a truly hilarious means of working in the suicide angle. Most importantly, Rosaline, as a character, simply makes more sense during this stretch.

Rosaline does arrive somewhere worthwhile and looks good all the way (set decorations to costumes all have a decent budget behind them), but it takes too long before everything clicks abd the attention-grabbing hook ends up wasted until the final 30 minutes.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★  / Movie: ★ ★ ★

Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]


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